Time defines most things when you think about it. The ongoing ticking of the clock, minute after minute. Time preceded us. Time will continue after us. This is the nature of things. But the beginning and the end are unique to each of us. We only have the time in between to work with. We can spend the time wisely, or not. We can be productive or not. It’s out to do what we will with it.
Sometimes time is cut short. I read an article recently about some artifacts recovered and displayed from the Invasion of Normandy (commonly known as D-Day) in June, 1944. A picture of a watch caught my eye, damaged during the invasion, forever stuck on 8:20 AM. A profound feeling came over me in an instant.
James Foster, a member of the 379th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Brigade, came ashore on Omaha Beach. Foster was killed exiting the landing craft, his personal watch, presumably marking the time of his death. For many of us, 8:20 AM means that we’re struggling to get started at work or maybe rushing in a few minutes late. Making some rounds to say hello to others, opening up the email to look at what’s going on in the office, or simply piddling around with some coffee to begin the day.
Looking at the picture, I try to imagine what it was like the moments leading up to his death. I think I’m pretty lucky to have never known the feeling of terror. In Foster’s final morning, I try to place myself in his shoes. Feeling the swaying sea below me on that cold, windy June morning. Would I have been nauseous? Would I have been able to eat, or keep any food down? I imagine the sight of the beach in the distance as the guns roared from the ships during the pre-invasion bombardment. Perhaps the soldiers in the landing craft felt optimistic at the sight. Could they feel the acoustic shock with each shot? Could they smell the smoke and residue?
When the landing craft approached closer, the bombardment ceased. It was time to go. Would my legs be strong enough to take a step, much less be able to carry the weight of the equipment on my back? Would I think of home and family, or would I focus on the mission ahead? Would I be able to think coherently at all? Honestly, I cannot really comprehend any of these. The experience is so far outside of anything I’ve been through.
Foster’s final actions are unknown. What’s known for sure is that he was killed in action during the invasion, relatively soon after exiting the landing craft. I wonder what his final thoughts were. I wonder how he felt. Perhaps he made peace with things. Maybe he made a final thought of his wife and family, sending a message of love into the universe as he fell. We’ll never know. But seeing his watch, probably right at the time of his death or very close to it, really makes you think. It’s also immeasurably sad. Foster, along with so many others, would never have a chance for a full life. At 8:20 AM, James Foster’s hopes and dreams came to a premature end, never being able to see a family grow up, a career, or to enjoy a retirement.
There’s a lesson to be learned. This doesn’t mean that each of us needs to go on some grand adventure to live to the fullest. Although, that’s always something rewarding. Whenever I see our troops die in combat, I instantly reflect on how we can all make it better. Whenever someone sacrifices, we should all do our best to reduce suffering, have compassion, and to make things better. If we’re spreading lies, being selfish, or trying to undermine others, we minimize the sacrifices made. Honor the sacrifices made by others to make things better (note, this does not mean impressing your political beliefs on others) through love, compassion, and easing of suffering. An easy lesson, but for some reason is lost on too many.
We owe a debt to James Foster, and so many like him, to be better that what’s going on now. We should be working together more. We’ll all have Foster’s 8:20 AM moment, and unfortunately, it’ll probably come sooner than any of us wish. But in the time we have, if we do our part, things will be alright.